It’s been a month since school ended. I can’t even believe it. It feels like we’ve done NOTHING! Despite big plans (pipe dreams, really) about road trips and camping and family visits and bbqs with friends, we’ve done none of the above. So when I run into acquaintances (other school parents mostly) around town and they tell me about their busy summers and eventually ask “How’s your summer been so far?” I shrug and say “old-fashioned!”
I grew up in a small town of 9000 people or so, but as a kid you have NO concept of how big your town is (do you??). All I knew is who lived on my street, how far I had to walk to school, and which house to avoid along the way. It was uphill both ways to school, and we had to trudge through 3 feet of snow for 5 months of the year (the last part isn’t even exaggeration!)
My best friend lived right next door. Her name was Michelle and she lived with her Mom and her step-Dad. In the summer she would go visit her Dad one province over, and I was left to my own devices for much of the summer. Before she got whisked away, we played every possible minute – her house, my house, her yard, my yard, the front yard, the back yard, my basement, her basement. We played inside on rainy days, we played outside when we could. Mostly we just stuck to our houses, but there was ONE time when her parents took us out to the lake (and we both got The Itch and spent most of the afternoon with calamine lotion on our legs, writhing around on a blanket trying not to scratch).
Occasionally we would get together with the 8 or 9 other kids our age that lived nearby and play Red Rover, or statues, or tag, or whatever kids in grades 2-4 play. But those other kids had different social circles, cabins at the lake, and their parents put them in classes and camps and sent them to grandparents’ homes in different cities. They rarely were able to just hang out, they always had someplace to be. Or maybe their parents just didn’t want them playing with us dirty kids – the ones playing in the mud, catching frogs in the ditches across the street, climbing trees, etc.
In grade 5, my horizons expanded – my parents bought a lot at a lake, my Mom opened a restaurant, and the subdivision was finished so some new kids moved into the neighbourhood. Our social circle expanded tenfold, and suddenly we were playing late-night hide-and-seek, kick-the-can, baseball in the empty field down the street, etc. My best friend’s Mom was the PhysEd teacher at the elementary school – uber into fitness – and made my best friend get up at 5 every morning so she could go practice figure skating before school. She also had to skate AFTER school, so we rarely got to walk to or from school together. So I got used to walking with other friends, and that 15 minute walk each way was a special time – a time when bonds are made and lasting relationships formed – and I found a new best friend.
My new best friend Debbie and I did everything together. Those few years – grades 5 and 6 and 7 – were where most of my favourite childhood memories were born. We climbed trees and built forts and walked fences and swam at the public pool. We tried smoking, spying, and kissing boys. We compared boobs and looked for pubic hairs and had sleepovers. We choreographed dances, made prank phonecalls, did gymnastics, learned to write backwards, raced on pogo sticks. We snooped in her parents’ locked bedroom, we snuck treats from the refrigerator, we fought, we giggled, we dreamed. I begged her to let Michelle play with us (whenever she was allowed to play, which didn’t seem to be often anymore – maybe her Mom saw that I had a new bestie), but those two were like water and vinegar. They just didn’t mix.
And as soon as school was out for the summer – POOF – everyone seemed to disappear! Debbie was shipped off to her grandparents, Michelle to her Dad’s, the others were in 4H (what the hell was THAT all about?! I had NO idea what camps were!) My brothers didn’t have time for me – they were older and could go off with their friends. I was stuck at home with my Mom. AUGH!!! The boredom!!! I was so incredibly lonely. I read, I coloured, I played solitaire, I played that game with a ball that you bounce off the wall until my Mom finally blew her top because the thudding drove her mad! I even got so desperate for company that one time I walked down to the next block and knocked on the door of a younger girl – one I NEVER played with – and asked if she wanted to come out and play! Her Mom was shocked that I knocked, the girl was shocked that I invited her, and they both shrugged and she (almost reluctantly) came outside. I don’t know what we did, probably nothing – skipped, tossed a frisbee, did gymnastics, whatever.
*Sigh*… what to doooooo, what to doooooo… I spent long summer days looking for 4 leaf clovers, my Mother showed me how to make flower headbands from clovers, and I rode my bike (no where because there was no place to go, but I rode it up and down the street). I read some, I puzzled some, I collected rocks and fried ants with the magnifying glass and practiced gymnastics. Basically I did a whole lotta nothin’. Occasionally my Mom would take my and my brothers out to the lake for the day, but the cabin wasn’t ready yet and it was more hassle than it was worth, with each of us whining for the 30 minute drive there because we wanted to bring a friend (but the car could only hold the 3 of us so no extra kids could come) and whining for the 30 minute drive home because we were hungry/hot/tired. Oooh, must’ve been good times for my poor Mom! LOL!
At no time, NEVER, did my Mother arrange a play date, drive me to a friend’s house, or take me anywhere (a movie, a fair, a bouncy castle, even a park!) The idea of summer camps was foreign to my parents – there were none in their home country, they had never even heard of such a thing. And nobody told them about it, so we were never signed up for anything. If I couldn’t find something to do, it was my own fault and my own problem. If we’d had more than 2 channels or maybe internet, I would’ve probably enjoyed the screen time. But it was the 70’s – Bill Gates had only just begun and the internet was decades from public domain.
And now, I’m paying it forward. My kids are spending this summer the old-fashioned way – BORED! Oh sure, I’ve taken them to Playland (once), to Maple Grove Pool (thrice), to Science World (once), to the beach (twice). But otherwise, they too are making memories of lonely summer days spent bouncing on the trampoline, climbing the tree, squishing ants, splashing in the kiddie pool, riding their bikes, doing puzzles, looking at books, playing board games, picking blackberries, camping in the tent on the porch, making up songs and plays to put on for the adults. Also fighting, whining, begging to be taken somewhere, and pissing me off daily with demands for ice cream and candy.
I just shake my head and think to myself “why can’t my kids just watch tv or play video games like everyone else?!”